From a falling tree to mobile traffic records, a blockbuster 10 days at Breaking News

Our heads are still spinning after covering a double-punch of big stories, starting with Sandy and ending with election night.  One of our Breaking News editors even narrowly escaped serious injury — or worse — as Sandy slammed into Long Island:

But first, let’s take a look at the numbers.

Working around the clock, our editorial team posted nearly 3,000 updates on our mobile apps and BreakingNews.com over the last ten days, with about one-quarter of those appearing on Twitter.  For Sandy alone, we boiled down an avalanche of coverage to 1,012 real-time updates over several days, linking original, verified reports from hundreds of news organizations and eyewitnesses on the scene.

Breaking News’ mobile traffic soared 50% and downloads jumped 130% — setting a new record by a long shot — but even more interesting is the fact it skyrocketed over desktop traffic by a surprising 3-to-1 margin. We’re not just mobile-first anymore; we’re mobile-dominant.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising given the sea change of news consumption toward phones and tablets. Martin McClellan, our senior designer, says his 75 year-old mom is “hooked” on checking her iPhone for news.  She even blogged about her experience checking the Breaking News app in the middle of the night for election updates.   

"Come on, only people under thirty take their iPhones to bed with them," wrote Marilyn McClellan. "I’m am definitely not in that generation — but, there you have it, my confession!"

While mobile traffic surges, keep in mind that BreakingNews.com’s desktop traffic is no slouch, ranked #1 in Google for the search term “breaking news” and drawing a big spike during Sandy and the election.  But the increasingly old-fashioned desktop is no match for combined mobile app and web traffic, especially as tablet use continues to explode.

Through all of this, we can’t be more relieved that Lauren McCullough, our supervising editor, survived a terrifying experience when Sandy made landfall on Long Island. “A tree crashed through my parents’ living room where we were all sitting tonight,” she emailed us at 1 a.m. “The roof came down on us, but we’re all fine and were able to get out of the house.”

Lauren was able to communicate with us — and send us that amazing photo above — because she escaped with her iPhone. “Miraculously (or telling), I was holding my phone when the roof collapsed and the tree came in, and I must have kept a life grip on it,” she emailed. 

Mobile phones have becomes lifelines during big stories, both for people in the thick of the news and others experiencing it from afar.  At Breaking News, we’re invested in making the mobile experience the fastest, most reliable source of news when it matters most.

(Post by @corybe)

Three Sandy rumors that circulated on social media: As you might imagine from a story of this magnitude, Sandy has sparked a torrent of photos, videos and other reporting from both the media and a large population armed with smart phones and Twitter accounts.  The Breaking News team has been hard at work verifying photos and videos with our real-time curation (The Atlantic has a great collection of fake and verified photos), but we’ve also been investigating several rumored stories that circulated on social media and escalated at the height of the storm:
1.  Three feet of water at the NYSE trading floor - It’s unclear where this rumor originated exactly — the National Weather Service says it was a mention in “broadcast media,” while Buzzfeed reports it came from a tweet — but the erroneous report ended up in the NWS internal chat tool.  It was subsequently picked up by The Weather Channel’s Hurricane Twitter account and broadcast by CNN, triggering an avalanche of social sharing. (Poynter has a more in-depth look here.)   Our team was already scouring photos and videos in Wall Street, and we saw several tweets questioning the report.  We decided to hold off and search for a confirmation:

We’re not reporting that NYSE trading floor flooding yet — still only “NWS chat” as source, which CNN also sourced.
— Cory Bergman (@corybe) October 30, 2012
Moments later, we discovered a tweet from Politico’s Ben White who said a senior NYSE official told him the report was false.  Several other reporters, too, from CNBC, WSJ and the Weather Channel followed:

NYSE official tells me reports of water on the floor of the Exchange are FALSE.
— Ben White (@morningmoneyben) October 30, 2012
We then fired off a tweet to help spread the word:

Rumors of NYSE trading floor flooding are not true, says NYSE - @politico @cnbc @weatherchannel
— Breaking News (@BreakingNews) October 30, 2012
2. Coney Island hospital on fire, patients trapped inside - This story wasn’t picked up by the media as widely as NYSE, but it generated quite a flurry on Twitter.  It originated from the scanner — FDNY firefighters could be heard having trouble gaining access to Coney Island to respond to a report of a fire at the hospital:

Brooklyn: FDNY is enroute to Coney Island Hospital for a reported fire on the third floor with a heavy smoke condition.
— NY Scanner (@NYScanner) October 30, 2012
Several others shared the link to listen to the FDNY scanner online, and sure enough, you could hear (as we did) firefighters attempting to negotiate high water to reach the hospital.  The story suddenly became a dramatic rescue attempt with hundreds of lives in danger, and it quickly spread across Twitter.  However:

#FDNY units are on scene at Coney Island Hospital. No confirmed fire or reports of injuries at this time.
— FDNY (@FDNY) October 30, 2012
We held off on this rumor as well — as with most media, we don’t share unconfirmed scanner traffic — and we shared the FDNY’s tweet that put an end to the drama. Turns out, as this local blog reports, the FDNY was responding to a car fire in the parking lot, which was extinguished before firefighters arrived. As the FDNY tweeted soon after, “There is much misinformation being spread about #Sandy’s impact on #NYC.”
(Slate has more  background on how this rumor developed.)
3. Con Ed employees trapped in flooded plant after explosion - This story began with a flash caught on video and Reuters story about a rescue.  The video showed an electrical explosion in Manhattan, and it was widely shared on Twitter.  After Con Ed acknowledged an explosion at a substation in the area, we shared the clip on Breaking News, but we held off on any other news about the substation.  While the clip is the real deal, Reuters reported that a full-scale rescue of trapped employees was underway, sparking another flurry of Twitter rumors.  A couple hours later, Con Ed tweeted:

#ConEd - No Con Edison employees are trapped in a building. The story spreading is a rumor.
— Con Edison (@ConEdison) October 30, 2012
With any major story these days, the media will make mistakes, just as we have made in previous stories. Twitter served both as a rumor and truth machine, simultaneously spreading and debunking false reports, leaving some at wit’s end:

I’m going to stop retweeting news here. Realizing that half of what I see is being contradicted (see, Con Ed workers not trapped)
— Maggie Koerth-Baker (@maggiekb1) October 30, 2012

Ok so no burning hospital in Coney Island, no Con Ed workers trapped in power plant, no 3 feet of water in NYSE - who started these rumors?
— John Seabrook (@jmseabrook) October 30, 2012
This is why we believe Breaking News — not just as a Twitter account, but as a mobile and online destination in its own — fulfills a key role in the evolving new world of journalism. You could argue that Twitter “self-corrects” in real time, but in reality, it isn’t always that fast:

I guess the people saying Twitter fact checks itself have already forgotten how many HOURS we thought Coney Island hospital was on fire for.
— Dick Wisdom (@nostrich) October 30, 2012
Few Twitter users are following all the journalists that journalists follow, and many are left hanging when a rumor takes on a life of its own. Just as Twitter is important as a communications platform, so are the news organizations that verify social media reports — both on social media and on their own coverage platforms.
It’s always a good reminder that today’s news consumer should not live by social media alone — as Twitter would say, it’s an ecosystem.
- Post by @corybe

Three Sandy rumors that circulated on social media: As you might imagine from a story of this magnitude, Sandy has sparked a torrent of photos, videos and other reporting from both the media and a large population armed with smart phones and Twitter accounts.  The Breaking News team has been hard at work verifying photos and videos with our real-time curation (The Atlantic has a great collection of fake and verified photos), but we’ve also been investigating several rumored stories that circulated on social media and escalated at the height of the storm:

1.  Three feet of water at the NYSE trading floor - It’s unclear where this rumor originated exactly — the National Weather Service says it was a mention in “broadcast media,” while Buzzfeed reports it came from a tweet — but the erroneous report ended up in the NWS internal chat tool.  It was subsequently picked up by The Weather Channel’s Hurricane Twitter account and broadcast by CNN, triggering an avalanche of social sharing. (Poynter has a more in-depth look here.) 

Our team was already scouring photos and videos in Wall Street, and we saw several tweets questioning the report.  We decided to hold off and search for a confirmation:

Moments later, we discovered a tweet from Politico’s Ben White who said a senior NYSE official told him the report was false.  Several other reporters, too, from CNBC, WSJ and the Weather Channel followed:

We then fired off a tweet to help spread the word:

2. Coney Island hospital on fire, patients trapped inside - This story wasn’t picked up by the media as widely as NYSE, but it generated quite a flurry on Twitter.  It originated from the scanner — FDNY firefighters could be heard having trouble gaining access to Coney Island to respond to a report of a fire at the hospital:

Several others shared the link to listen to the FDNY scanner online, and sure enough, you could hear (as we did) firefighters attempting to negotiate high water to reach the hospital.  The story suddenly became a dramatic rescue attempt with hundreds of lives in danger, and it quickly spread across Twitter.  However:

We held off on this rumor as well — as with most media, we don’t share unconfirmed scanner traffic — and we shared the FDNY’s tweet that put an end to the drama. Turns out, as this local blog reports, the FDNY was responding to a car fire in the parking lot, which was extinguished before firefighters arrived. As the FDNY tweeted soon after, “There is much misinformation being spread about #Sandy’s impact on #NYC.”

(Slate has more background on how this rumor developed.)

3. Con Ed employees trapped in flooded plant after explosion - This story began with a flash caught on video and Reuters story about a rescue.  The video showed an electrical explosion in Manhattan, and it was widely shared on Twitter.  After Con Ed acknowledged an explosion at a substation in the area, we shared the clip on Breaking News, but we held off on any other news about the substation.  While the clip is the real deal, Reuters reported that a full-scale rescue of trapped employees was underway, sparking another flurry of Twitter rumors.  A couple hours later, Con Ed tweeted:

With any major story these days, the media will make mistakes, just as we have made in previous stories. Twitter served both as a rumor and truth machine, simultaneously spreading and debunking false reports, leaving some at wit’s end:

This is why we believe Breaking News — not just as a Twitter account, but as a mobile and online destination in its own — fulfills a key role in the evolving new world of journalism. You could argue that Twitter “self-corrects” in real time, but in reality, it isn’t always that fast:

Few Twitter users are following all the journalists that journalists follow, and many are left hanging when a rumor takes on a life of its own. Just as Twitter is important as a communications platform, so are the news organizations that verify social media reports — both on social media and on their own coverage platforms.

It’s always a good reminder that today’s news consumer should not live by social media alone — as Twitter would say, it’s an ecosystem.

- Post by @corybe

Breaking News geared up for Sandy

As a devastating storm nears landfall in the Northeastern US, Breaking News has staffed up to provide expanded real-time coverage, 24 hours a day.  A storm of this magnitude – stretching across several states and hundreds of local media companies and government agencies – will produce an avalanche of information.   Our editors are monitoring these sources in real time, and we’re filtering and publishing the most important reports as they’re made available.  We’re also sharing the most impactful eyewitness photos and videos we discover and verify via social media.

While @breakingnews on Twitter will share the major highlights, we’ll be publishing a much higher volume of developments on our Breaking News apps and BreakingNews.com.  For those in the storm’s path, power outages are a certainty, so our mobile apps as well as our dedicated @breakingstorm Twitter account – which can be configured to send SMS messages – will come in handy.

And, of course, we’ll continue our coverage on Facebook, Tumblr, Google+ and our other social channels.  Stay safe everyone.